MUNGO MacCALLUM. So much for Team Australia!

Aug 1, 2016

The term was always a bit suss – indeed, when Tony Abbott coined it to claim solidarity against the war against terror, it quickly became obvious that membership of his side was to be strictly limited. Team Australia meant, in effect, Team Abbott: its participants were to be Captain’s picks, loyal not to the country but to the right wing causes he himself would select.

And it was perhaps prescient that one of his immediate s decisions was to barrack for team New Zealand – he enthusiastically endorsed the former Kiwi prime minister Helen Clark as his choice for secretary-general of the United Nations over the former Oz prime minister Kevin Rudd. The precedent was set: the national interest would be disposable where party politics were concerned.

Malcolm Turnbull has followed several of Abbott’s leads, and so perhaps it is not surprising that he also rejected Rudd’s nomination for the position. Petty, vindictive, rancorous, bizarre – even Abbott’s best friend, The Australian’s foreign editor Greg Sheridan was outraged and appalled.

But no longer shocked: Turnbull has slunk away from so many previous stances that disappointment from the once heralded messiah is now par for the course. Once again, our Prime Minister has shrunk from the occasion. But his grovel to the neo-cons – his natural enemies within his party – is so blatant that it must now be asked whether it is in fact irreparable.

In spite of the sophistry of some commentators, there is no doubt that Turnbull had given the nod to Rudd’s nomination some months ago. For him now to say that he believes Rudd is “not well suited” for the role is absurd. Turnbull was asked not to appoint him – that is not his job – but to forward his nomination to a selection committee of the United Nations.

It should have been a formality, and one that he would normally have embraced. His foreign minister, Julie Bishop, who knows far more about the United Nations than any other member of the cabinet, said publicly that she regarded Rudd as eminently well qualified for the job; and although a lot of people don’t like him much, that is not strictly relevant.

Of course he can be a narcissist and a megalomaniac – all successful politicians are. It goes with the job. And Rudd can be rude and abrasive at times – when he was frustrated at the Copenhagen conference on climate change he stormed that Australia had been ‘ratfucked’ by the Chinese. Not tactful; but perhaps a bit of plain speaking is not such a bad thing in the overly cautious halls of the UN.

Rudd has been a prime minster (twice), a foreign minister, a top bureaucrat and a Mandarin speaking diplomat: surely no one – and certainly no other Australian – can claim those credentials. But the fact that Peter (Two Planks) Dutton doesn’t want him nominated is apparently more important.

For Turnbull to claim that party politics were not involved in his decision is risible. When it was pointed out that Rudd himself made a number of appointments – not just not nominations, to his conservative opponents – Peter Costello, Tim Fischer and Brendan Nelson among them – Turnbull said, well, the coalition did that too – it had actually extended Kim Beazley’s tenure in Washington.

True; but it had only been an extension. Over my 50 plus years of following federal politics, I can never recall a single new bipartisan appointment from the Liberals.

Turnbull has been driven purely by politics – political cowardice, in fact. In similar circumstances other prime ministers would have faced their opponents down, but Turnbull has decided to try and appease them – to hope that in the next confrontation they will feel that they owe him one.

This, of course, is fantasy – the Duttons of this world are implacable. When they perceive weakness, they go for the kill. Turnbull’s capitulation has not only insulted Rudd, and the Australian nation; he has humiliated himself and all those who, perhaps reluctantly, supported him on July 2 in the hope that after having been elected in his own right he might become his own man – that he would grow a spine.

The fact that he would not even face Rudd in person – that he resorted to the telephone to tell his victim of his treachery and pusillanimity – is a clear indication that he is simply not up to the job. Politics may be his métier; leadership is not. And Team Australia – the real team Australia – is the loser.

Meanwhile, back in the land of our great and powerful ally, the preliminaries have finally been decided: Trump (his supporters respectfully use only his surname) versus Hillary (her followers regard her with rather more familiarity).

It should be no contest; it beggars belief that the bumptious bigot can become the leader of the nation that remains, for many, the world’s best hope. And my common sense tells me that he won’t: the Donald (if I may call him that) has made so many enemies – women, blacks, Hispanics, sane people – that he must fail. Hillary Clinton is far from universally popular, but she is at least rational, which should be enough.

And there is a precedent. Way back in 1964 Lyndon Baines Johnson, who had succeeded the assassinated John Kennedy, was campaigning to become president. He was not liked much either; Kennedy has plucked him out of Texas as a wheeler-dealer, needed to secure the Democrats more conservative wing.

But his opponent was the ultra-rightist Republican Barry Goldwater, who, like Trump, relied purely on mindless patriotic slogans to win the masses. His spin doctors coined the motto: “In your heart, you know he’s right,” which struck something of a chord until the Democrats responded: “And in your guts you know he’s nuts.” Goldwater won just four states.

The Americans weren’t silly then; let’s hope they’re not silly now.


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